Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Should the Canadian Government Pull the Plug on WebEx?

Last month I attended the O'Reilly Gov 2.0 Conference from the comfort of my desk. It brought together attendees from around the world using WebEx, a web conferencing technology that includes audio and video conferencing, desktop sharing, and other valuable communication and collaboration features.

Later this week, I'll be attending a meeting with colleagues in another province.  It won't involve the discussion or exchange of any protected, classified, or otherwise sensitive information.  But what if it did?

All of the major web conferencing services including those offered by WebEx, Citrix, eBLVD, and GoToMeeting are hosted in the United States. All data exchange over these platforms utilizes American Internet infrastructure, and therefore any information residing on those servers or passing through those networks is subject to monitoring, interception and collection under the terms of the Patriot Act.

This law, which was hurriedly passed in October 2001 in reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks, has remained largely unchanged despite the substantial presence of controversial and highly-criticized provisions that were intended to expire beginning December 31, 2005.

At the time I attended my conference last month, the US Congress and House of Representatives were continuing to debate the line between privacy and homeland security, with the House shelving further discussion of the law until later this year.

This "temporary" legislation which, according to Congressmen Jim McDermott and John Conyers, Jr., passed while remaining unread by the majority of officials responsible for voting it in, has now survived for nearly 10 years with the most contentious powers (like the expansion of National Security Letters) completely intact.

Should the Government of Canada really be conducting daily business over American Internet under these circumstances?